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The Red Bird Sings by Aoife Fitzpatrick: A brilliant and intelligent page-turner

One of the book’s key themes is the difficulties of women but, luckily, it is done well

The Red Bird Sings
The Red Bird Sings
Author: Aoife Fitzpatrick
ISBN-13: 9780349016658
Publisher: Virago
Guideline Price: £16.99

The best thing about reviewing books, I’ve discovered, is the experience of reading something I would never otherwise have picked up, only to find I can’t bear to put it down. The Red Bird Sings is one of those books. The cover is gold and floral, suggesting a thrust towards the popular, easy-reading female market. Strike one. It’s set in Virginia in the 1890s, and circles around a real-life murder trial, involving ghosts. Strike two. It also pegs itself as feminist, but in that way that appears too easy, allowing someone hideously snobbish like myself to thumb their nose at it. Strike three. Upon seeing it, I could feel myself placing it back down on the table in Hodges Figgis, wondering instead where I might find some (moderately difficult, stylishly plain-jacketed) modern essay on existentialism, suitable for reading in the Fallon & Byrne window.

Well, more fool me, because this book is a genuinely brilliant little read. No, sure, it isn’t going to open pathways of perception, or make you reconsider your way of moving through the world. But begod, it’s enjoyable, and intelligent, and does well what so many books in similar guise fail to do – offers a tangible slice of life from another time and place, one that feels both fantastical and utterly believable. It’s clear that Aoife Fitzpatrick has taken her time writing it, and that she has researched thoroughly. Researched so thoroughly, in fact, that it’s hard to believe she’s a Dublin native, and not a Virginian ghost herself, come back to tell us what for and teach us a little something about the tribulations of women through the ages.

Of course, as with much else being published at the moment, that is one of the book’s key themes: the difficulties of women. Luckily, in The Red Bird Sings, it’s done well. The depiction of coercion within marriage is unnerving in its accuracy, Fitzpatrick capturing the isolation and desperation achieved within the closed walls of a relationship. Trout Shue makes a great, old-fashioned villain, while the women of the novel are sufficiently flawed to remain human, rather than irritatingly saintly. I look forward to watching the addictive television adaptation and insufferably boasting that, yeah, it was good, but the book’s much better.